Football 2023: Harvard 45-University of St. Thomas 13

For Crimson football, another opener (its 149th!), another show

Harvard football player 21 runs with ball towards a touchdown with St. Thomas players pursuing

HOUSE CALL Having intercepted a St. Thomas pass, Harvard sophomore safety Ty Bartrum took it back for a touchdown. The 96-yard pick-six was the fifth longest interception score in Crimson history. | PHOTOGRAPH BY DYLAN GOODMAN/COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Let’s not kid ourselves. The Harvard football team’s 45-13 thrashing of St. Thomas on Saturday in the Crimson’s 2023 opener at Harvard Stadium had its uses. It kicked off a season-long celebration of 150 years of Harvard football (excepting 2020, of course, which was lost to COVID) and it served to provide game action as well as introducing some promising new faces. But questions—especially about the passing game—remain unanswered as the team gets ready for Friday night’s league opener against Brown at the Stadium.

On a blustery afternoon (the winds courtesy of Hurricane Lee), the Tommies, a first-time foe who hail from St, Paul, Minnesota, were expected to furnish a sterner test. Last season, only two years after making the jump from Division III to Division I, they were champions of the Pioneer League with a 10-1 record. But Saturday’s defeat dropped them to 1-2 this season. Meantime, Harvard won its 22nd straight home opener. (This is the second longest active streak in the Football Championship Subdivision, trailing only North Dakota State’s 25.) And Tim Murphy, the Stephenson family head coach of Harvard football, saw his record in Crimson openers go to 20-9.

“A very solid start to the season overall,” said Murphy, who clearly was happy to have a game under his belt. “Any time you play great defense, you have a chance to win. We found out that our guys could make plays. The emotion and physicality that our kids played with, that was excellent.” But of course, he is a coach: “We have a plenty of things to clean up—trust me.”

Early on, the Crimson offensive and defensive lines established mastery of the line of scrimmage. Very soon Harvard was in cruise control. Graduation had left Murphy with large holes to fill, and the biggest ones were in his offensive backfield. The new starting quarterback, junior Charles Deprima, exhibited some impressive strengths, particularly his speed and athleticism. He led the Crimson in rushing with 113 yards on the ground, 69 of them on a scintillating touchdown dash down the right sideline to open the third quarter. When it comes to his passing, though, the jury is still out: 7 completions in 18 attempts for 92 yards, one touchdown, one interception. The wind made throwing the ball problematic, so for the moment we’ll give him, well, a pass.

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In the search for running backs, Harvard uncovered one on its first offensive play, which commenced at the Crimson 21. Deprima handed the ball to classmate Shane McLaughlin, who had seen limited action in 2022. The 5’11”, 200-pounder blew through a hole created by senior right tackle Jacob Rizy, cut to the right sideline and accelerated all the way to the end zone. The new kicker for 2023, senior Cali Canaval, provided the season’s first extra point. With 4:35 gone, it was Harvard 7, St. Thomas 0.

Harvard sophomore safety Ty Bartrum runs an intercepted St. Thomas pass back 96 yards for a touchdown.

HOUSE CALL Having intercepted a St. Thomas pass, Harvard sophomore safety Ty Bartrum took it back for a touchdown. The 96-yard pick-six was the fifth-longest interception score in Crimson history. | Photograph by Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletic Communications

PRETTY GOOD, FOR OPENERS On Harvard's first play from scrimmage, junior running back Shane McLaughlin (29) received a handoff from quarterback (and classmate) Charles Deprima and rumbled 79 yards for a touchdown. | PHOTOGRAPH BY DYLAN GOODMAN/COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

On its next series, St. Thomas went three and out, with third down bringing the first sack of the season by Harvard senior defensive tackle Thor Griffith. The 320-pounder powered past his overmatched blocker and wrapped up quarterback Amari Powell. Note to opponents: put a double-team or even a triple-team on the mighty Thor. After a punt, Harvard got the ball on its 48. In three plays, the Crimson was back in the end zone: a wide receiver screen to sophomore Cooper Barkate for 27 yards; a Deprima 21-yard run; and a four-yard bolt into the end zone by sophomore backup quarterback Jaden Craig, who will be inserted for such short-yardage and goal-line situations. Canaval booted the point. Harvard 14, St. Thomas 0.

It got worse for the Tommies. On first down from their 33, Powell was sacked by sophomore defensive lineman Alex DeGrieck. Powell fumbled; Crimson junior defensive lineman Nick Yagodich pounced on the ball. On the ensuing Harvard third down, from the 25, Deprima handed the ball to running back Isaiah Abbey. The 225-pound sophomore easily shucked off an ankle tackle and cruised into the end zone. Canaval again booted. With a little more than 10 minutes gone, it was Harvard 21, St. Thomas 0.

Player 90 on field with fellow teammate
NICE JOB, YOUNG FELLA After making his first career sack, Harvard junior defensive lineman Nick Yagodich (90) received kudos from senior All-Ivy linemate Thor Griffith. Yagodich also assisted on another tackle for loss and recovered a fumble. | PHOTOGRAPH BY DYLAN GOODMAN PHOTOGRAPHY/COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Thereupon things settled down. Canaval missed a field goal, and in the second period the Tommies mounted a nice 63-yard, 12-play drive, consuming more than seven minutes and taking them to the Harvard 15. On fourth down and six, Powell dropped back. Crimson sophomore safety Ty Bartrum focused on Powell’s eyes. Powell looked left and flipped the ball in that direction. Bartrum “jumped the route,” as the expression goes, picked off the ball and set sail in the opposite direction. He did not stop until he reached the opposite end zone 96 yards away. “When I saw the grass—I knew it was a lot of grass!” Bartrum said. This is the fifth-longest interception return for a touchdown in Harvard history. Canaval punctuated. Harvard 28, St. Thomas 0. (The other Crimson safety, senior Garrett Sharp, had a game-high 12 tackles.)

For good measure, with two seconds left in the half, Canaval navigated the wind to kick a 43-yard field goal. Harvard 31, St. Thomas 0. To illustrate the adage “lies, damn lies and statistics,” St. Thomas led in time of possession, 22:43 to 7:17.

To start the third quarter, Harvard came out throwing—almost disastrously, as Deprima nearly tossed an interception. On the next play, from the Crimson 31, he faked a handoff to McLaughlin, snatched the ball back and headed to the right edge. Turning up the right sideline, he displayed a long-legged lope, easily outrunning the St. Thomas defenders to the end zone. (In his predilection for running, Deprima is a bit reminiscent of Joe Viviano ’17.) Canaval kicked again. Harvard 38, St. Thomas 0.

Later in the period, the Tommies got on the board thanks to their two best players. Junior wideout Andrew McElroy made a sensational one-handed grab to set up a two-yard touchdown blast by doughty running back Hope Adebayo. Harvard 38, St. Thomas 7. On the afternoon McElroy had six catches for 119 yards; some NFL team is bound to give him a look someday.

Later in the quarter, the Crimson got the benefit of two close calls. On third and three at the St. Thomas 42, the Harvard offense moved before the snap. Illegal motion—five yards! But wait—it was ruled that they were reacting to what were termed “disconcerting signals” by the Tommies’ defense, a five-yard penalty on St. Thomas. So, the Crimson got a new set of downs. (Isn’t the burden supposed to be on the offense to ignore anything distracting the defense does? Just wonderin’.) Then, Deprima tossed an 18-yarder to senior tight end Tyler Neville in the end zone. Neville grabbed it…then dropped it. But the officials ruled that he had it long enough to make it a catch…and a touchdown. Upon review…hmmm. (Just sayin’.) But the touchdown stood. Canaval kicked. Harvard 45, St. Thomas 7. In the fourth quarter, St. Thomas scored on a three-yard run by Sean Shipman but missed the PAT. Thus the final score.

So…a bit of a walkover but a solid start. On the offense, the jury is still out. We’ll paraphrase the remark of Donald Sutherland’s character, Pinkley, in the 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen: “Very pretty, very pretty…but can they pass?”

TIDBITS: Harvard’s all-time record in season openers is now 122-25-2….The 45 points were the most by the Crimson in a season opener since the 51-21 victory over Rhode Island in 2016….The 79-yard jaunt by Shane McLaughlin on the Crimson’s first play from scrimmage extended Harvard’s streak of not being shut out to an Ivy record 238 games….The second game of this home-and-home series is scheduled for 2029 in Minnesota.

Weekly Roundup

Brown 29, Bryant 25

Cornell 23, Lehigh 20

Holy Cross 49, Yale 24

Lafayette 24, Columbia 3

New Hampshire 24, Dartmouth 7

Penn 20, Colgate 6

Princeton 23, San Diego 12

Coming up: Friday Night Crimson (as it’s being called) at the Stadium and the first Ivy game of the season, versus Brown. Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET. The game will be telecast on ESPN+, and broadcast on WRCA 1130 AM/106.1 FM. The Bears, who finished last in the league with a 1-6 Ivy record (3-7 overall), won their opener over Bryant 29-25. In a series that began in 1893, the Crimson leads 89-30-2 and has won the last 11, including 35-28 last year at Brown.

 

THE SCORE BY QUARTERS

St. Thomas

0

0

7

6

 

 

13

Harvard

21

10

14

0

 

 

45

 

Attendance: 6,217

Read more articles by: Dick Friedman

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